Mind and Body Tackling A Marathon on the Last Continent

Tackling A Marathon on the Last Continent


Kory Williams gives the rundown on his Antarctica Marathon adventure.

St Patrick’s Day, 2018

I had just arrived via zodiac on King George Island and was informed that the start time of the marathon was moved up from 7:30 to 7:20 a.m. (original scheduled time was 9 a.m.) due to the forecast of serious adverse weather. We had been warned that this could happen as things can be unpredictable in Antarctica.

I now had less than 15 minutes to get my foul weather gear off, get my winter marathon race gear finalised, make a quick trip to the make shift bathroom aka the honeypot, and then make my way to the start line with my race supplies (fluids and race gels) — this is adventure racing and one needs to be self-sufficient and prepared for all eventualities.

I barely had a couple minutes before the race start to catch up with my thoughts and reflect on the journey that had brought me to one of the most remote locations on the planet to run this marathon with a great group of like-minded runners I had just met earlier that week in Argentina.

Getting to Antarctica

Everyone on this trip had their personal story of what brought them to run in Antarctica. In this 19th edition of the Antarctica Marathon, there were over 30 runners that were targeting to complete the goal of running a marathon on each of the seven continents. I was one of this group.

Getting In, Getting Ready and Getting to the Start

In January 2017, my spot on the 19th edition of the Antarctica Marathon in March 2018 was confirmed (only a 3-year wait). After much research, planning and training in 2017 and early 2018, we were ready to board the plane to rendezvous with the group in Buenos Aires, Argentina in early March.  After a few days in BA we caught a plane to Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world. There we boarded our ship, the Vavilov, and set out sail for Antarctica via the unprotected waters of the Drake Passage—the world’s roughest seas.

There was lots of time to attend lectures, read, hang out and bond with our fellow runners from around the world as we were off the grid and unplugged as we crossed the drake. After almost three days at sea we made landfall on the South Shetland Islands the day before the race.

Race day

After my rushed time to the start, I quickly got into the groove of this six-lap marathon course. This marathon was like no other. First there were less than 10 supporters on the course—far fewer than I have experienced in all my other marathons. Plus, you were always in regular contact with all the other runners, who were cheering each other on so you did not experience many long lonely miles, one of the advantages of this multi-lap race. And there were a few penguins on the course. That was a definite first. I liked to tell myself that they were cheering us on.

Then there was the conditions. It was dark and cold at the beginning. The wind was so fierce at some points I would pull my balaclava back on. We even experienced a mini blizzard at one point. The terrain was tough too. The route was basically a gravel road (frozen solid for us) with lots of boulders, rocks and hills.

Although the conditions were the toughest I have ever personally experienced, you find your groove as you adapt to the conditions. None of us set personal bests that day. In the end it didn’t matter as we all ran a marathon in Antarctica!

Once everyone finished (and everyone on the Vavilov finished) and was safely back on the ship, there was a big St. Paddy’s celebration that night after a few afternoon naps.

After the Marathon

You might think the story ends there, but in truth it really just started to get going the next day as we spent three more amazing days enjoying the relatively untouched nature and majestic beauty of Antarctica. From dramatic mountains, coves, bays and stunning landscapes to the wildlife—penguins, whales, seals and birds native to this part of the world—it was amazing. There are so many great memories, but the one that sticks with me the most is on our last day in Antarctica. We were in Cierva cove and we had our own private whale watching show/photo shoot where five humpback whales were breaching, diving, logging and spyhopping in amongst our five zodiac boats for over two hours. They were so close that we could have touched them. Equally they could have flipped over our tiny boats, but they put on a show for us instead.

And once that show was over it was time to get loaded up, pull up anchor and head for home.

I went to run a marathon in Antarctica, met an amazing group of people, had an amazing adventure like no other in the process and left wondering how I can possibly top this experience.

Of course, I am not done. The running fire burns just as strong and there are many more challenges to be conquered. Two challenges on the top of my running bucket list is to complete the remaining world marathon majors and run a marathon in all thirteen provinces and territories.